'I had an abortion. Or maybe I didn’t. Why do you care?'

Leslie Cannold.



Following the outcome of the US election and the defeat of Mitt Romney, many women are today breathing great and heavy sighs of relief – grateful that their right to choose will remain protected.

But with the social stigma that continues to surround abortion unlikely to abate any time soon, there are still battles to be won.

Leslie Cannold had an abortion. Or maybe she didn’t. What does it matter? Why do you care?


Look at the women around you – wherever you may be right now.

One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. And if you haven’t yet, you can stop looking at each other now.

We actually aren’t born feeling ashamed of anything. We’re not ashamed of our nakedness, we’re not ashamed of our bodily functions, our sexual desires, our reproduction or abortion. We learn, from our communities, what is shameful. And it is the real or perceived oversight of those communities that make us feel shame.

Now shame is about fear, but what are we afraid of?

In ancient times, if a woman brought shame on her name, or her family, or her community she could literally be thrown out of that community. Cast out. She could be stoned. In some places in the world today, that is still the case.

In our world, a woman might be afraid if people find out that she’s had an abortion that her church community will evict her. Or she might be worried that her family, or her boyfriend, or her husband might throw her out of the house. Or that her friends will start a whisper campaign about her.

But the thing is, that those fears all cut to something very, very essential about us; very, very primal. And indeed that is why shame is such an ancient form of social control. Because it actually goes to something that may be hardwired in us. Which is this desire to stay in connection with other human beings. Shame evokes the fear of disconnection.

I had an abortion. Or maybe I didn’t. Why do you care?

Shame does not stop women having abortions. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt women. It does. And it hurts them by silencing them and by causing ignorance. So let’s talk about that.

Silent women can’t ask for support. Two thirds of women fear that if others find out their abortion they will look down on them and so, nearly that number – 58 to 60% – don’t tell their friends and their family about their abortion and talk about their abortion little or not at all.

My baby is pro-choice.

Silent women can’t share information. So if I reach out to someone and say “Oh my God, I’m pregnant when I don’t wanna be, I don’t know what to do” and someone says to me “Oh you know, that’s terrible, like that happened to me too and here’s how I felt and here’s how it went and I went to this clinic and it was terrific or I went to that one and it wasn’t so good but WHATEVER you do if you go to this one, be really careful because across the street, there’s a building that’s dolled up to look like the abortion clinic but it’s actually not an abortion clinic at all. It’s run by a pro-life agency and by the time you even work out where you are, they will have told you a whole bunch of false information about abortion, they may have told you you’re going to hell, and by the time you stumble out of there you’ll have missed your appointment.”

Silent women DON’T ask for the laws they need and deserve. And indeed this was actually how I came into the shame issue because I am an abortion rights activist. And in order to change the laws, to try to get things out of the law that hurt women, to try to put things into the law to protect women, I actually need to raise awareness amongst decision makers and amongst the public that there is a problem.


So if you think about any news item that you’ve ever seen or a newspaper article about some broad social issue, you’ll see that it starts with a story. It starts with a story of a particular person and that’s so that it doesn’t seem so abstract and you can actually see that this broad social issue that’s being spoken about is actually hurting someone and that’s why it is, we need to make the effort to change things.

You’ve got to ask yourself; if shame is so bad for women, then why is it still happening? And who is doing it?

The answer to who’s doing it is the Shame Stokers. And the reason is that shame is a gift that just keeps on giving. Shame equals silence equals ignorance equals shame equals silence equals more ignorance equals more shame and more silence and more ignorance. And that silence and that ignorance is the fertiliser for the ground on which repressive abortion laws and policies flourish.


“A legacy of unutterable shame.” That was said by an Australian Health Minister, who said that Australia’s abortion rate was a national tragedy that left a legacy of unutterable shame

“Abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”. This was said by a Catholic Archbishop, again not long ago, to a group of young people. What is being said here is, the moral evil that we need to concern ourselves about is NOT men in positions of authority and trust who rape children and or then cover it up. The REAL moral problem of our time is women who have abortions.

There are a couple of messages that the Shame Stokers are sending us there.

One message is DIRECT to women who’ve had abortions. So what they’re worried about is if they talk about their abortion, they’ll be shamed and judged and cast out. And the Shame Stokers are saying to them “you bet your LIFE you will. You put your head above the parapet Missy and we will kick you in the teeth.”

And the second message the Shame Stokers are sending is to all of us. And it’s really a lesson worth learning. And it is this. That if you don’t tell your own story, other people will tell that story for you. Silence does not stay silent for long.

So. This is an optimistic challenge, right. And I’ve just dragged ya right down into the mud. Do not worry because we are heading up! And the reason we are heading up is because there is absolutely nothing that I have just told you that you can not do something about.

Communities cause shame. And communities can stop it.

Reach out.

Women who’ve had abortions who feel supported experience less shame. And less of shame’s noxious, down stream consequences. So let the women in your world know that you are NOT a Shame Stoker. That if they talk to you about a problem pregnancy or an abortion, you will NOT judge them. You will NOT shame them. But YOU will listen with empathy and compassion, and let them know that they are not alone.

So instead of this negative, downward cycle – of shame equals silence equals ignorance which causes more shame and more silence and more ignorance – you get an upward spiral. You get, empathy equals connection equals empowerment equals empathy equals connection equals empowerment for women.

And so. I had an abortion. Or maybe I didn’t.

But I hope by now you know, that it doesn’t matter either way…because we won’t be silent any more.

Pledge in Support of Women

Let women know they are not alone. Stand up for women and against abortion shaming by signing the Pledge

Dance in Support of Women. 

Already, a “Let’s End the Stigma” flashmob has run in Melbourne. Participants stood up for women and against abortion stigma by dancing to support women. (You can see the video above)

You can also register now for the Sydney flashmob – go here. If you live in Canberra, a flashmob is currently being organised.

To keep up with dates and times and how to register for the Flashmobs, to sign the pledge and to stay on top of the ongoing “Abortion- a Fact of Life” campaign JOIN US at

You can also find Reproductive Choice Australia on Facebook and on Twitter.

Leslie Cannold’s novel The Book of Rachel is out now.  Click here to buy her book and you can visit Leslie’s website here.
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